Purple Magazine
— Purple 76 Index issue 29

Saltz jerry

portrait by CELESTE SLOMAN
interview by MAURIZIO CATTELAN AND MARTA PAPINI

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — How much ego is involved in your posts on Instagram?

JERRY SALTZ — There’s ego in my Instagram, for sure. I’m not sure “how much” or exactly what “ego” means in this context. People who say, “This isn’t about my ego” are egoists. The better question might be: “Is there id in your Instagram?” Yes. In the West and in the current art world, pleasure is seen as suspect. The superego wants the id out. Especially any id not preapproved or somehow tamed. It strikes me as impossible that a platform made entirely of pictures wouldn’t be almost all id. This makes Instagram an unexpected vent of pleasure open to anyone, a way of communicating without words — fractured for sure, imprecise always, odd and unformed at best, a temporary thing that repeats but that feels slightly different every time. Somehow, our idiot ardent pictures make online tribes form and reform, then ossify and die like everything else. Instagram isn’t deep, but it’s easy to spend long cerebral seconds, ring bells, shake cages. If it causes a ruckus up in the office, that’s fine, too. That’s what images do! 

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — Would you say that your online profile is part of your reality, or is it just a cooler alter ego?

JERRY SALTZ — Even though my real self is not cool and my online second self is not my real self, this second self is as real to me while it’s happening as everything else. A way of leaving my inner Amherst home to travel worlds? It’s all very Proustian to me, ever here but always impossible to hold onto.

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — Isn’t it all about self-promotion?

JERRY SALTZ — I see: you are worried about ego or “too much” id again. (Is this why you stopped saying you’re an artist?) Yes, sure. I have over a million followers on three platforms. My real-life motto is “I hope I don’t fuck it up again this time.” I try to do the best I can in this extended community — knowing I’m going to fuck it up. But this doesn’t stop me from reaching. Sometimes too far; more often, not nearly far enough. My superego holds me back as much as anyone’s. I do promote my own writing, lectures, and whatnot. I promote lots of other people, too — which may be self-promotion, as well. And whatever the self-promotion is about, it’s not about money, even though the art world is in a phase where everyone thinks that everything is about money. But in my whole life in the art world, I don’t remember anyone who was in it only for the money. Not even Larry Gagosian. Anyway, I tell people they can take anything they want from me. Take my work; you don’t have to credit me; say it’s yours; make a book of my writings, sell it — the money is yours. Once I post something, it’s out there and no longer mine. Change the negative words in my review about you to positive ones; make up stuff, I wrote it. To me, copyright is 100% dead. Posted writing is material; artists use materials. Period. Anyone who wants can use my “material” any way they want. On the other hand, I’ve noticed the art world really believes in old-school copyright. So I’m on the wrong side of this issue, too.

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — Do you take more into consideration a positive comment from a stranger or a negative one from a friend?

JERRY SALTZ — Of all… of the few close friends I have, few follow me online. They have no idea that I’m “out there” online. Well, they hear about it, but it almost never comes up when we’re together. As for reading comments, I read every comment every time — even if it’s days, weeks, or sometimes months later. I am so grateful for every one. Even the negative ones. I get as much from those as the positive ones. It’s impossible for me to overstate how helpful all these comments have been. It’s changed my life. Only for the better. Even when I’m called names — which is a lot. I always think two things: “You could be right.” That, and: “There’s nothing you can say bad about me that can match the bad things I say about myself.” I have elephant skin. I can read the most awful shit about myself, and it’s all grist for my mill. It helps my works — and in a lot of ways, that’s why I do everything.

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — Which post has the most likes? 

JERRY SALTZ — Good question. I just went back a few weeks and saw a Halloween post that I titled something like “Best Costume by a Couple of 2017” — of a woman in a hospital gown wheeling a cart with a real guy’s head on it that made it look like she was giving birth to him. It got 17,500 likes. People love Halloween costumes, I guess. I get a lot of comments on medieval images, shows I’m seeing, historical art, and my reviews. The two one-man Trump protest-sign marches that I did of me walking up and down the main street in the Connecticut town where we rent a year-round house got tens of thousands. But those had nothing to do with me and are only about all our shared deferred pain.

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — Do you follow the same rules in Instagram posting as you do in your work in real life? 

JERRY SALTZ — No. Writing, real writing, is about editing. There’s no such thing as writing; there is only rewriting. Online life is the opposite. Real writing takes forever and is never right. A foul thing. On the other hand, online posts are written in heat and posted at once. I do this a couple of times a day as my writing anxieties come and go, and get worse and better. I go to Google with nothing in mind, start hyperlinking images or news or art until I see an image that catches my eye and stops me for a second. I never know what I’m going to post until I post it. I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than a few minutes posting something. Then I might not look at it again for a long time; other times, I have fun responding to commenters in real time. I do like to add idiotic captions. I like captions as I don’t want to speak only in pictures; I feel that domain belongs to artists — not critics. Hence my bad captions. I use them to hopefully generate comments that will generate other people’s ids and egos. Can I be assholish in these comments? Yes, I can. I read every comment. I also click “like” on it, and if I have time, I really try to go to that person’s Instagram and “like” a recent post or two. It could be any picture — of you, your cat, your work, at the beach, whatever. It’s my way of saying “Thank you! Thank you!” Although I hate pictures of dogs and food. Children are great.

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — Which Instagram profile do you wish you knew?

JERRY SALTZ — I’m not socially well adjusted. I’m not really part of society. I don’t go out much. Except to galleries and museums. The real bottom line about me meeting other online “profiles”: I don’t want to meet anyone in the actual flesh! I’ve never sought anyone out for any sort of in-person meeting. I love dispensing online advice when someone has clicked on one of my images and said something or asked for advice. I will try to return the gesture by being as absolutely open and as honest as I can possibly be about whatever comment I make. I have been critical of people’s work, and 95% of the time they are very grateful for the honest, open feedback. When people tell me they don’t like my comments, I back off immediately. I totally get that they don’t buy what I’m selling; nor should they, then. Anyway, I only speak to and like second selves! Not real people! I’m in it for the art or maybe the art of being in it.

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — If anyone could go back in time to your first post, what would he/she find?

JERRY SALTZ — I think it was a picture of a fucking NYC parking meter I couldn’t get to work? I’m not sure because someone signed me up for Instagram and said: “Here. This is Instagram.” She never showed me how to use it. I just started using it, feeling for its outer edges, seeing how art and I could inhabit this space. The same thing happened with Twitter and Facebook before that. By now, I have no idea what all my passwords are or were or which e-mails were used for which accounts so if I lose my phone, that’s the end of my one million followers. That’s already happened to me with Tumblr.

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — What is the worst error you can make in posting? Why?

JERRY SALTZ — In 2014, I posted a picture on Facebook that still makes me feel pain. I deleted it less than 24 hours later. It was one of the worst days in my real life; I looked for comfort online and posted. But instead of one of my then usual medieval illuminated manuscripts of the devil beating people or cutting off legs with an idiot caption about “This is what I’m going to do to your work,” I posted an actual photo of a woman’s spanked behind. Within hours, people weren’t just angry the way they were when I posted the medieval pictures. They were hurt. I took the post right down and posted an apology. I’d fucked up. Of course, the hours that this one photograph was up have come to define me in the minds of many others. I accept that. And many of my comments to people have been assholish. All this has broken my heart and almost killed me. But still “we beat on, boats against the current.”

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — For whom are you posting?

JERRY SALTZ — It’s just like my writing: it’s for anyone who can use it. All of us in the art world are driven to dance naked in public. Not just in private.

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — Is online representation transforming the way we think and produce art?

JERRY SALTZ — When I’m home writing, I love seeing posts of all these shows out there. I can feel like I’ve gone to four or five openings a night. Without every having to leave my house. And I can’t wait to see those shows soon. I see between 20 and 30 shows a week, and Instagram is a good prod to see more in more places. You ask if it changes how art is produced. No more or less than how everything changes the way art is produced. A lot of that Zombie Formalism a few years back got spread via Instagram. So what? Everyone knew this art would last only as long as the market for it lasted. That happened. We’ve moved on. If some artists got rich from it — good for them. I want all artists to make money, the good, the bad, and the very bad.

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — Where do you find art today?

JERRY SALTZ — Same as it ever was. I still love seeing art in the flesh, though. Then again, I’ve never been to China, and I love Chinese art. I like art wherever I find it: online, in books, on the street, posters, wherever it is. But like I said, for me galleries are where new art comes from. And I go to museums constantly. That’s pretty much my whole life. I love it and feel lucky about it every day. Most of you know that I didn’t start writing until my 40s, I have no degrees, and I drove a long-distance truck into my 40s. It’s insane that I have this life lived in art at all — and not in hell where I’d been until then.

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — Whom is art for?

JERRY SALTZ — Art is for anyone. It’s just not for everyone.

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — What was the first piece of art that really mattered to you?

JERRY SALTZ — There was no art in my life growing up in the suburbs of Chicago — unless you count walking past a dozen Frank Lloyd Wright homes every day on the way to my Prairie School high school as art. (I kissed a girl once in a FLW home.) Anyway, when I was 10 years old, my mother took me into Chicago and parked me at the Art Institute. She left me to wander there alone. I hated it. Then I started looking at this colorful little painting of a guy in robes inside a jail cell sticking his head out the bars while another guy with a long sword stood over him. Then I looked at the picture right next to it. The same guy’s body was in the same cell, but his head was on the ground, and there was blood spurting everywhere while the swordsman was putting away his sword. I looked back and forth and back and forth and suddenly realized these pictures were telling stories. I looked around the gallery and realized that every picture was doing this. My world changed, even if I didn’t know this was a Beheading of St. John the Baptist done in the Sienese Renaissance. My mother committed suicide a month later, so this talking-picture revelation is primal for me, somehow. Connected to all my undercurrents of love, loss, need, confusion, control, laughter, the whole mysterious White Whale of stuff. It turns out that the artist I saw that day is also one of my favorites of all time — Giovanni di Paolo. I only connected this love of him to this genesis-moment decades later.

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — From your point of view, does art necessarily have to be innovative/radical? 

JERRY SALTZ — Of course! Otherwise there’d be no reason to ever move on from a Raphael Madonna. No one has ever rendered mammals better than cave painters. That doesn’t mean we stop trying or looking or needing to render them again. We are hardwired with the urge for change, evolution, newness, variations on themes. This is how life and art always find a way. As for the art world — a form like painting only dies when all the things it has to tell us have been told. That’s why it’s so funny to see all these art world academics always acting like undertakers pronouncing things dead: painting is dead, history is dead. As soon as women and people of color started making art, academia started saying, “The Author is dead!” I love the art world!

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — Do you think that despite the fast consumerism of online contents, your followers read your eight-paragraph-long reviews?

JERRY SALTZ — If someone starts and stops reading one of my reviews, that’s my fault. Not the fault of “fast communication.” When I hear they didn’t finish something, I always think, “What did I do that allowed them to put my work down?” I look at my work and try to fix that and not fuck it up next time.

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — Do you feel like your work is against the system? Which system, by the way?

JERRY SALTZ — Inside, I may be a wild-child outsider, but by now to most people I am part of the system — even if to me, I’m just an overweight balding Jewish geezer with glasses and no social life who never studied art history, comforts myself by telling myself that everyone is really self-taught, and is one of the slower readers in the world, who sits at home and writes all day and hopes that I can say something new and illuminating. Strange brew. The real truth is — especially as a late-bloomer who barely got to bloom at all — I’ll play in whatever system that allows me to. And if it doesn’t, I’ll make my own and be happy with that. Artforum has never asked me to write for them, but that’s not my field. (For the last 10 years or so, I’ve barely understood anything written there anyway. That stuff is written by 155 people for 155 other people who all go to the same art fairs and biennials and serve on each other’s juries and symposia and hang out in nifty hotel lobbies all over the world. It’s fine by me, but it’s a closed loop.) I write where I can. It’s why I developed myself online. I write for anyone who’ll read me. I can’t write if writing is without you.

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — How would you feel if we state that you’re an artist?

JERRY SALTZ — I am whatever you say I am. How you use my work is how you use it. In my head, I’m sort of a folk-critic, a very poor cosmic-lottery-winning Sister Wendy/Bob Ross guy.

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — Isn’t complexity dead since online life was born? 

JERRY SALTZ — Hah! No! That’s like saying that the incredibly advanced memory-storage and operating system of Cave Painting killed complexity. Or that afternoon ragas killed complexity. Life finds a way.

MAURIZIO CATTELAN — In any case, why do we really care about your Instagram?

JERRY SALTZ — I still care about my Instagram, which is enough for me right now. In 10 years, no one will even remember what Instagram was. It’ll be like a relic, like rotary phone. Even if I bargained for salvation from Instagram and it gave me a lethal dose, I have a life lived in art and I don’t want to turn back the clock.

END

[Table of contents]

Purple 76 Index issue 29

Table of contents

Purple Index 76

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